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The Future Workplace: Part I

In the first of our two-part exploration of the future of work, we examine the organisational challenges facing employers today, including the changing structure and space of the workplace. The second article will focus on the retention and recruitment challenges faced by employers who are striving to drive change through their people, but are increasingly hampered by a skills shortage across the UK. 

Technical and cultural challenges are rendering the 9 to 5 day obsolete. Employees expect flexibility beyond these standard working hours – flexi-time is on the rise, alongside shift and freelance work.

The rise of technology 

Gruelling working hours date back to the industrial revolution and the factory worker. 16-hour days dominated this era, until social reformers campaigned for an 8-hour working day. The simple aim was to split the 24-hour day into a more balanced picture of work, rest and leisure. Henry Ford was one of the first to introduce this in 1926, boosting productivity and profitability. The reduction in working hours and focus on efficiency saw John Maynard Keynes predict that technology would mean that we would be working 15-hour weeks before the year 2000. Whilst the 40-hour work week remained widely in place, Keynes rightly predicted the profound cultural changes that technology would introduce.

Fast-forward to 2018 and people can securely access their work whenever and wherever. Working from home is actively promoted in certain companies who argue that working for eight hours a day is no guarantee of productivity. Requiring someone to sit at a desk for defined hours is no way to frame the day. This is a sharp contrast to the days of Ford and Keynes when workers needed to be physically present to do their job. With people now working with ease remotely, the idea of setting ‘fixed hours’ for employees to complete their work within is increasingly being challenged.

Whilst many cite trust as a factor in whether working from home is supported in their workplace, for many, technological advancements mean a disconcerting rise in the number of workers taking work home with them and constantly being connected to work. This suggests that quantifying working hours in 2018 has become even harder, with work demands perhaps even rivalling the 16-hour days seen in the industrial revolution – just without the physical presence of a worker in their workplace.

The 9 to 5 model does not consider when individuals work best: as either night owls or early risers. This can impact recruitment, retention and morale. Millennials value the idea of flexibility and this can dominate their decision in accepting a new job. Almost half of people work flexibly with job sharing or compressed hours’ arrangements, with only six per cent working a traditional 40-hour week according to a YouGov survey. 37 per cent of full time workers said that they wanted to start work at 8am and finish by 4pm.

The generation game

Flexible working arrangements is only one aspect of what appeals to different generations of workers. Millennials have sent flexibility to the top of HR agendas, but their approach and attitudes to work also vastly differ from the characteristics of generations before them.

The life and work blend that characterises millennials compared to previous generations who valued a more separate ‘work-life balance’ is just one of the factors which are challenging the status quo. The mixed skillset that millennials pursue differs from traditional expectations of a laddered structure to ‘rise to the top’. Millennials also value more immediate feedback, as opposed to an annual evaluation forum, and flatter organisational structures where all voices are heard, in comparison to more hierarchical ways of working. These factors introduce and drive change in the workplace.

New ways of working are pivotal to the sustained and future success of organisations. CEO of ‘That People Thing’ Blaire Palmer recently led our client seminar, which discussed how letting go of habits, beliefs, processes and attachments that no longer serve leaders and their organisations is essential to embrace the future. This is supported by Nora Ganescu, the author of ‘The CEO’s Playbook’ who advocates that leadership needs to provide the vision and space for the whole organisation to rise to the challenges she likens to being in the ‘middle of a forest’ and certainly unlike the tried and tested paths followed by organisations before. Making sense of the constantly evolving environment organisations find themselves a part of requires a nimble and agile approach at all levels of the business.

Purpose is your compass

Conventional hierarchy in the workplace which has survived for generations is being challenged by agile, non-hierarchical and self-managing organisations referred to as Teal organisations in Frédéric Laloux’s ‘Reinventing Organisations’. Process and custom are being replaced by an organisation’s higher purpose which is used as the compass to map the growth and evolution of the workplace and achieve change. Dan Pink’s ‘Drive’ brought about the much-needed, wider-angled view of the motivators at work beyond pay. Pink defined autonomy, mastery and purpose as equally, if not more, important in an individual’s engagement with their work. Aligning every employee with the core purpose of the business is increasingly seen as the first step in the activation of the brand. Mobilising everyone towards that higher purpose can overcome the differences in the more granular details around what motivates different generations and unites all employees or contractors to work towards the vision and purpose of organisations. A well-rounded approach to benefits allows the employer to truly promote their values, cement their culture and position themselves as a great place to work in the long-term. Considering what makes their employees want to come to work can translate into how to keep their best people more engaged and productive for longer. Our recently published special report looks at the engagement challenges facing employers in more detail. Get in touch if you would like to discuss how we can help to activate your reward strategy to get maximum engagement from your people.

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